What Should You Ask Before You Say “I DO”
Lucie K. Lewis, Ed.D, Senior Staff Writer
The state of marriage is often measured not by the number of people getting married but by the rate at which they divorce. In fact, both the US Census Bureau and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention through the National Center for Health Statistic publish statistics on divorce. Top ten lists abound about the reasons why people divorce. For example, Alisha Rand suggested in Common Causes of Divorce that unclear expectations about serious issues that may come to light in marriage cause conflict because the problems were not well examined before marriage. These misunderstood expectations could involve life’s priorities and family life or concerns surrounding finances or religion. Regardless of the reason marriages fail, the critical question is whether there is something that can be done before the couples say their vows and utter “I do” to effectively equip them to face the disagreements, disappointments, and challenges that assail a marriage, often irreparably damaging the relationship and tearing it asunder. Are there questions and conversations that will arm the newlyweds to weather the storms they will face in their marriage with understanding, compromise and patience?
According to Dewey Wilson of Strong Marriages and Pastor Charles Kearse, the process begins with the time and honesty invested in a pre-marital exchange.
Pastor Kearse stated that there are three essential questions that couples must share the answers to in order to establish a solid foundation for their marriage.
1. What is your vision long-term? Why are you here?
2. What is your financial and medical history?
3. What do you want our legacy to be? Are we entering into marriage committed to the long-term? What are we committed to passing on to those we leave behind?
These questions are broader than they may seem on the surface. Pastor Kearse shared that these questions should include often uncomfortable yet revealing discussions about critical family life situations such as topics involving children. Through the lens of vision, one question couples must address asks how many children they each want. The question continues from a historical perspective asking how many children they each already have, and through the long-range retrospective look at legacy, the conversation of their long-term commitment to one another and the gifts they desire to create for the next generation begs the question of how they will we raise their children. Wilson warned that this premarital conversation about children becomes even more important in blended marriages.
The resulting dialogue surrounding each of these three premarital discussion areas begins to help couples manage their expectations jointly and individually, and to ensure that the couples can begin their lives together with a deeper sense of who they are and clearer insight into where, if unmanaged, their differences could eat away at the strength of their relationship.
Wilson agrees that these types of questions are at the heart of entering a marriage fully aware and armed with the tools they will need to resolve the inevitable conflicts that lie ahead. As part of their premarital program I Promise, Dewey and his wife Lynne work with couples to tackle those tough conversations.
One of the first areas that the Wilsons have couples examine together is their childhood family lives. The conversation is intended to include discussions about the strengths of each of their parents, what each appreciated about their parents, how they spent the holidays as children and how they expect to spend the holidays as married couples.
The next area for discussion addresses their expectations about finances. Who will be the bookkeeper? Who will be the keeper of the checkbook, and who will be the budget guardian? Wilson explained that it is very difficult for couples to truly come together if they never bring their finances together. According to Wilson, although having separate mad money accounts is not a problem, trying to pay the bills and manage the household from separate accounts can quickly become problematic.
Another difficult subject to broach is the frank conversation about one another’s expectations about their sex lives, even if they have already been intimate. Wilson asserted that after marriage, couples often forget to continue to work on that part of their relationship. He explained that it is essential that couples always be in pursuit of each other. Without the chase, complacency can seriously damage the marriage. An important part of that pursuit is to know one another’s love language so that overtures, gestures and communication will be not only understood, but accepted as an expression of love. The five love languages were published in 1992 in a book by that name. The subtitle of the book, written by Gary Chapman, How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate easily captures the purpose and the benefit of his message. The five love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
Wilson stressed that couples are usually brought together by what they have in common, but eventually their differences begin to breach the surface. In the beginning, they did things to please one another, but Wilson explained that after marriage they begin doing what is comfortable instead. Knowing and valuing each other’s personalities allows couples to celebrate their differences as they creep into the relationship and so personality and differences become the next critical areas for premarital exploration. Gaining insight into each other’s personality also helps to guide couples through the communications patterns needed to resolve conflict. Which one is most likely to be the one to instigate an argument? Which one is more likely to compromise in order to end it?
The goal of this process is for couples to garner a clear enough understanding of one another to see where the potential trouble spots are. Is one more committed to the relationship and marriage than the other one may be? Are the potentially insurmountable differences manageable with compromise, change and tolerance? For blended families because consideration must also be given to how the children will come together, fighting through these details before marriage is even more critical. Strong marriages come through hard work, commitment, sacrifice, compromise, communication and understanding. Sowing the seeds to nurture these attributes before the marriage begins gives the couples the opportunity to grow, love and live together through any storm that will come into their lives.